“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 AMP
One of my most liked posts on social media is:“You were never hard to love. You were just getting harder to manipulate & control. You were getting better at honoring your boundaries”. Based on the great responses and questions, I decided this is something that needs to be discussed in a podcast!
As you start to heal and prioritize your mental health, you may notice people reacting negatively as you change. There are many reasons for this, which I am going to go through, but before I do, I want to emphasize that you were never hard to love. You are phenomenal. And I am not saying that to make you feel all warm inside; I am saying it as a scientist and researcher. Your psychoneurobiology (mind, brain and body) is wired for love, which is amazing! There is something you can do that no one else can do, which is also incredible! Besides the different structures of your brain, you have about 200 specializations across the different parts of your brain that are aligned in a unique and wonderful way, making you you. Just wow!
All this means that your brain is inherently specialized. The cerebral cortex has 200 structures, each with specialized circuits. Everything that you process as you go through life is more efficient when done with a specialized circuit, which is how the brain works.
Yes, there is a limit to how many areas there are and how many circuits within those areas exist, because the human skull is limited to a certain size. Yet we all have our own unique 200 areas, or what I call our “perfect you”, which gives us a unique way of perceiving and being in the world—I call this the “wise mind” in all of us. When all this specialization between individuals comes together, we can enhance each other’s existence using our “wise minds”, which is essentially what it means to be part of a community!
But, of course, life happens, and adverse circumstances can mess with this beautiful specialization, temporarily blocking our wise mind. The brain is always changing in response to the mind, and this can go in both a negative and positive direction, which is known as the plastic paradox.
When we go through hard times, we are messy because our minds get messy—this is part of what it means to be human. However, when we are messy, this can impact those around us, upsetting the natural balance that we, as humans, seek out. Consequently, the people around us may try to restore this balance, and this can potentially make things messier.
It is important to note that healing can be very messy, and that seeing loved ones in pain is messy. When this happens, our perspectives can become very dominant to help us survive and cope, which, in turn, makes it difficult to see anything except our own point of view. When this happens, it often feels like the person in your life is trying to control or manipulate you, or is getting frustrated with or resentful of you. They just cannot understand why you are not taking their advice, why you are taking so long to heal or why you aren’t doing it their way. As I said, it can become very messy!
But there is hope. When this happens, the situation can be repaired, and all parties involved can grow from this, if they can work through it individually and as a community, which involves a lot of mind management!
But how? Here are some tips to handle this kind of situation:
1. Remind yourself that they don’t really understand what you are going through, and you are not responsible for how they choose to react.
Most of the time, when someone in your life is acting in the “messy” way described above, it is because they don’t know how to deal with how you are changing. They don’t understand your experience because they are not an expert on your experience—only you are.
Indeed, even you won’t fully understand what you are struggling with at times as you go through the stages of healing (which often get worse before they get better). This means you will do and say things you don’t really mean to do or say during your journey, especially if you are triggered. In this case, it’s important to identify those triggers so that you can work on them.
And, when you are ready, you can let your loved ones know that this is your mess, your healing, and it will look different at different stages, and that you need to do this for you. You may also have to say to this person (or people) that if they are uncomfortable with this, for the sake of your healing and the relationship, that some distance may be required. Remind yourself that these kind of boundaries are more for you than for them, and that you are not responsible for how they choose to react to you and your needs.
2. Remember that you are entitled to your own space.
Sometimes someone may feel they are losing their power over you when you start to heal, which can also lead to a very messy situation. Certain people with narcissistic tendencies may not like losing control over you because of their own traumas, toxic experiences and pain. Some people may be angry that you are changing because of certain cultural or religious mindsets. People like this tend to flip things around and blame you in an obscure and confusing way—they try make you feel bad about what you need to do to heal.
When this happens, the key is to recognize this and, as mentioned above, put some major boundaries in place to protect yourself. You can start doing this by visualizing yourself in a suit of armor when you are around them, and creating space and distance between you and them till you feel strong enough to deflect their “darts”. If they try to make you feel guilty for doing this, or “love bomb” you to manipulate you, just see this as more evidence that you need to maintain your boundaries; you are entitled to your own space and have the right to seek out your own healing and peace.
3. Remind yourself, and them, that you are not helpless.
Some people may react negatively to your healing journey because they see you as helpless. They feel that their plan, not yours, is the thing that is going to carry you through this challenge/issue/time. They don’t believe that you have it in you to heal yourself.
But you should never be treated as helpless, regardless of what may or may not have happened in your past or in your relationships. We all need help and support at times, but you should be supported in way that empowers you to find your own healing—you should be allowed to walk your own journey.
In fact, your wise mind becomes activated when people support you with unconditional love, not when people tell you what they think you should be doing. If you find yourself being boxed in by other people’s expectations, it’s important to show and say that even though you are battling, you aren’t helpless, and with your 200 unique brain specializations and circuitry, what works for them will not necessarily work for you.
At the end of the day, you need to work out what boundaries you need to heal. As I mentioned above, this is not to keep people out; rather, boundaries are about protecting yourself while you work through your own stuff. This may look like asking the person in question to just listen to you when you need support, or it may mean creating some distance from them as you learn how to embrace, process and reconceptualize your pain. Or you could choose to keep things neutral and light, just seeing this person when you need a mental and emotional break. There is no one way to “do” boundaries.
4. Be careful of “fixers”.
There are also people that are always trying to fix things for others, which is often a sign that their own trauma response needs healing; they are trying to fix you to avoid facing their own pain. In this case, blind compliance with no boundaries will only make things worse. If you can see this happening, tell the person directly, but as kindly as possible, that they can’t fix themselves by trying to fix you. It may end the relationship or put it on pause for a time, but it’s important you are not being used as an avoidance technique by someone else—this will only cause more mental pain for everyone involved.
Trying to fix someone can also come from a sense of helplessness. When a person sees someone they love in so much pain, it can be heartbreaking. They may want to try to absorb the pain and make it go away, and can end up saying and/or doing too much, until they reach a tipping point and make things worse. In this case, it’s important to calmly tell this person that you understand what they are trying to do, and that you appreciate their concern, but a better way to help you is to wait until you ask them for support instead of offering advice or help so freely all the time.
This often happens in a parent-child relationship, especially as the child grows up and enters adulthood. Yet allowing our children, no matter what age they are, to be free to make a mess and accept mental “messiness” as a part of life is incredibly important, as it helps them learn how to manage their mental health and grow as a person.
If you find yourself in this kind of situation, just let your parent or guardian know this: “What has happened is a mess, but it is my mess. I need to experience this without judgement. I need to embrace, process and reconceptualize what has happened. I am thankful for your love and support, and I appreciate the fact that I know you will be there for me no matter what, like I am there for you, because we are on the same side. But you cannot fix this for me.” If things are really challenging, I highly recommend family therapy as well, which creates a safe environment, which allows everyone involved to discuss how they feel and what their intentions are.
5. Change the narrative!
We need to change the narrative surrounding mental health. We need to accept the fact that it’s okay to be a mess, and we need to level the playing field; no-one is exempt from battling with their mind!
At the same time, we need to empower people and let them know that there is hope. As I discuss in detail in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, through developing self-regulation, we can tune in to our wise minds and find a way forward—we can gain a sense of peace amidst the chaos.
Indeed, you can start doing this today! Just take some time out of your day (even if this is just a few minutes!) and tune into yourself…tap into your wise mind. Embrace your worth, and acknowledge your own desire to heal. Say to yourself, “I see you”.